During Virginia's secession crisis in 1861, the citizens of Martinsburg watched as delegates to a secession convention in Richmond debated Virginia's fate. When, after months of stalling, the delegates finally voted to secede on April 17, 1861, most Shenandoah Valley residents—opposed to secession until that point—became caught up in the fever for war and enthusiastically supported the new Confederate States of America. Martinsburg, however, stubbornly remained Unionist, largely because the U.S. government offered the best protection for the railroad's interests and the railroad supported the local economy.
Additional Confederate troops under Jackson's command entered Martinsburg on June 20 and set about dismantling the railroad, further outraging Unionist residents. In addition to the tracks, the Confederates destroyed the round house, various railroad buildings, fifty-six locomotives, and at least 305 cars. Thirteen locomotives were spared by Jackson and seized for use by the Confederacy.
Patterson's army departed on July 17, but there would be many more occupations over the war's remaining years. Numerous skirmishes and two battles were fought in the area, and its buildings served as makeshift hospitals at various times for both armies. The first battle, fought on June 14, 1863, was part of the Gettysburg Campaign. The Army of Northern Virginia, preparing to invade the North for a second time, set its sights on the town's ample food stores, but at the end of a day's hard fighting came away with not much more than several thousand bushels of grain. The second battle, fought on July 25, 1864, was part of Confederate general Jubal A. Early's summer campaign of strategic diversion in the Shenandoah Valley. Early's hope was to threaten the disjointed Union command in the Valley and, eventually, to threaten Washington, D.C., itself, while also pulling troops away from Union general Ulysses S. Grant's lines around Petersburg. Less than two months later, on September 18, Martinsburg changed hands for the last time as Union general Philip H. Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah occupied the town.
Although the scars of war would eventually heal, occupations and battles left a once-thriving Martinsburg devastated by war's end. "Its situation has rendered it a peculiarly undesirable place of residence," observed a Northern reporter in December 1864. "Its streets have been trampled … the ruins of the depot buildings, and of houses burned in former attacks upon the town, give the usual air of desolation seen in border towns."
July 17, 1861 - Union troops under General Robert Patterson leave Martinsburg for Charles Town. Martinsburg will remain in Confederate hands until March 2, 1862.
September 18, 1862 - Following the Battle of Antietam in Maryland and the subsequent Confederate retreat south, Martinsburg is transformed into a makeshift hospital for use by the Army of Northern Virginia.
July 23, 1863–July 2, 1864 - Union forces occupy Martinsburg. The town remains in Union hands until July 2, 1864.
September 18, 1864 - Confederate forces under General John B. Gordon occupy Martinsburg but later that day are driven out by Union general Philip H. Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah. Martinsburg remains in Union hands for the remainder of the Civil War.
Cite This EntryAPA Citation:
First published: January 30, 2009 | Last modified: September 20, 2012